Constipation in babies – signs, causes and remedies

If your baby is having difficulty passing a stool, they could be constipated. Find out what to look for and how to assist.

As new parents, we will always be looking for our baby's next smile, laugh and little cooing sounds that our baby is happy and healthy and that everything is okay. Stool, although not nearly as pleasant, is another thing we as parents should have on our radar.

Photo Credit: Javier de la Maza, Unsplash


In a nutshell

A baby’s bowels usually work within the first 24 hours after birth. The first stool, meconium, is blackish-green and sticky, with no smell. The colour changes to yellowish-brown over the next few days. Green stools are not a problem unless the baby loses his appetite and develops a temperature with diarrhoea, or starts to vomit.

For the first 6–8 weeks, a healthy baby usually has 3–5 stools a day.

A change in the stools may occur temporarily when introducing alternative feeds and again when introducing solids. They may also smell more intense.

Normal but infrequent stools do not indicate constipation.

So what to watch out for?

Your baby is constipated only if the consistency of the stool appears to be hard, dry and pellet-like.

It's important to note that babies' stool schedules can swing on both sides of the spectrum. Some exclusively breastfed babies pass a stool after each feed; others have been known to hold out for a week or longer.

"Consistency is key to defining constipation in breastfed babies. Rather than liquid, seedy, pasty stools, the constipated baby's stool will be more like little clay balls," says Jane Morton, M.D., a clinical professor of paediatrics at Stanford University School of Medicine, "though it is extremely rare for an exclusively breastfed baby to be constipated."

Formula-fed babies can be all over the map, too. And when solid foods enter the picture, parents should be prepared for the frequency, form, and colour to change again. But as a frame of reference, babies 0 to 4 months of age pass a stool on average three to four times a day, and after the introduction of solid foods, that reduces to approximately one bowel movement per day.

Parents often suspect constipation when there is a prolonged absence of stool. This can definitely be a sign of constipation. If a baby is not having at least several bright, yellow (not dark brown or green) stools on Day 5 of life, something could be wrong, regardless of whether they are on breast milk or formula, Dr. Morton says. This usually has to do with the baby not getting enough to eat.

But frequency is not the only clue. It could be constipation if your baby's stool is hard or difficult to pass. Harder stools can stretch the anal walls a bit, which causes bleeding and a small streak of bright-red blood in the stool.

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If your baby is making straining faces and if the baby’s antics are coupled with a firm belly that's painful to the touch, their intestines could be backed up. Your baby could also have constipation if they refuse to eat. If nothing's coming out, a baby might feel so uncomfortable that they won't take any more in.

What Causes Constipation

Although it's rare for a baby on an all-liquid diet to experience constipation, it can happen. Exclusively formula-fed babies are much more likely to have trouble from constipation, Dr. Morton says. Formula can firm up stool much more than breast milk.

If your baby has a milk-protein allergy or intolerance, they could end up constipated. A milk-based formula could cause this, as well as the dairy in mom's diet that's passed through the breast milk. This also carries over to any other kinds of dairy an older baby could consume, such as yogurt and cheese.

When a baby is around 6 months, paediatricians often give parents the green light to offer solid foods. What your baby eats will largely determine the kind of stool you can expect, many sources confirm. And many different foods could contribute to constipation. Start by considering your ABCs—applesauce, bananas, carrots and cereal, Dr. Morton says. Too much of any of these, especially rice cereal, can contribute to constipation.

How to Treat It

A change in baby formula or in Mom's diet could help combat constipation in formula and breastfed babies, respectively.

Several kinds of fruits and veggies, such as pears and broccoli, can get things back on track, along with water.

Other methods to ease your baby’s constipation:

  • Gently massage your baby’s tummy by using just your fingers for a few minutes
  • While your baby is lying flat on their back exercise their legs as if you were pedalling a bike
  • While your baby is lying flat on their back allow free kicking (Leg exercises: Grasp ankles and flex knees till they press on abdomen, straighten out. Repeat.).
  • Give additional clean, boiled and cooled-down water after feeds.
  • If your baby is formula-fed, ask your doctor about changing to one that is made for constipation or adding a little diluted prune juice to the formula.
  • Remember your ABCs - different foods that could contribute to constipation. Start by removing: applesauce, bananas, carrots and rice cereal from your baby’s diet. Try ease constipation with prunes, pears or broccoli
  • Avoid using laxatives, unless prescribed by your doctor.

Remember to always consult with a registered health practitioner before you consider the introduction of infant formula product supplementation or changing from the existing formula product your baby is on to a new alternative such as formula made to assist with constipation.

Visit MyMilkClub store to learn more about formula products that can ease constipation, also available as AUTOMILK subscription

Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post. MyMilkClub reserves the right to its opinions and fully supports the notion of promotion that breast is best in line with the World Health Organisation (WHO) infant feeding guidelines. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of an infant’s life, and continued breastfeeding with complementary foods for up to two years of age. Breast milk is the best food for infants. Good maternal nutrition is essential to prepare and maintain breastfeeding. If breastfeeding is not possible, an infant formula may be used according to the advice of registered health professionals. Preparation and storage of any infant formula should be performed as directed on the tin in order not to pose any health hazards.